I am a Catholic mom. It is probably no big surprise that my first-born daughter is named Mary.
Mary was not what we called her while she was still in my belly. My husband liked the name Rachel; I have a great devotion to St. Anne. Her name was supposed to be Rachel Anne. Every night we asked God to bless “Baby Rachel.”
At this time, I was also praying every day for my Aunt Mary who was suffering greatly from cancer. “Aunt” Mary was actually my dad’s cousin. Her youngest daughter was my best friend growing up. We had many teenage-girl adventures together. My Aunt Mary often smiled at our antics, sometimes frowned, and mostly just shook her head. I loved to hear her gentle laugh. Her children and grandchildren were her delight. The wrinkles on her face, I believe, were caused by smiling all the time. She was a beautiful, benevolent soul. Aunt Mary passed one month before my child was born.
I knew what I was to do. I talked to my husband; I talked to my cousin. We named the baby Mary Rachel. For the last 18+ years we have nightly prayed, “God bless Mary Rachel.”
One day, Mary came to me upset. She discovered in a baby name book that her name means “bitter.” I explained that she was named after one of the most beautiful women I ever knew, Aunt Mary, and after the most beautiful woman who ever lived, the Blessed Mother Mary. “Yea, but our name means 'BITTER'!” she replied.
It didn’t make sense to me either. How could our Lady, the Mother of God, have a name that means "bitter?" Despite the many hardships she endured in her life - from giving birth to her Son in a stable in a foreign town, to losing him for three days in Jerusalem, and finally witnessing, even entering into, the horrific manner of His death - Mary was not resentful. Our Lady of Sorrows was never bitter.
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My Aunt Mary also lost a son when he was in his prime. Like her namesake, she too was full of sorrow and hurt, but not bitterness. So what’s in a name?
“Mary” is often translated as bitter because in Hebrew mar means bitter. Most likely, our Lady’s name in Hebrew was Miryam. Yam means sea. In Latin, “bitter sea” would be Stilla Maris, but Church Fathers called her Stella Maris or Star of the Sea, which seems to more accurately describe Mary’s role.
If, however, she was named after Moses’ sister, the Old Testament’s most famous Mary, then her name could be taken from the Egyptian Mariam. After all, her brothers Moses' and Aaron's names were Egyptian. In ancient Egypt, Mery means beloved. Combined with the Hebrew form for God, Ya, Mariam would mean “Beloved of God.” That definitely fits Mary - every Mary I know.
Of course, in the Blessed Mother’s time, Aramaic was the language of her people. Her name in Aramaic would have been Maryam, which means “Enlightened One” or literally, “Light Giver.” How appropriate! Mary truly has given and continues to give us the Light of the world.
So on this, the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, reflect on her precious name and whichever translation that is most appealing to you. St. Louis de Montfort promised, “It will cause the Word of God to take root in the soul and bring forth Jesus.”
Holy Mary, Star of the Sea, Beloved of God, Giver of the Light of the World, pray for us. Amen.
Copyright 2016 Kelly Guest
About the Author
Kelly Guest was blessed to be a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia for five years. There she received the many graces she draws upon today as a wife and mother of nine children. Wishing to share with other moms encouragement on our quest to become holy through motherhood, she blogs at Nun2Nine.com and CatholicMom.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram @nun2nine. Kelly's book, Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness, is due out October 1, 2021.